Bittering Agent Makes for Safer Kids, Wildlife and Pets
By Albuquerque Mayor Martin J. Chávez
June 7, 2004
If you're a typical parent driving your children around town, chances are you are never more than a few inches from several gallons of a lethal poison called ethylene glycol.
This is the key ingredient in your car's antifreeze or coolant. Its taste is deceptively sweet, and there will invariably be occasions when puddles or containers of this deadly poison are left out and accessible. Very small quantities are toxic, and sometimes lethal. And when it's in your warmed up engine, it is circulating at high temperatures and under considerable pressure.
So it should come as no surprise that the American Association of Poison Control Centers reports thousands of human ethylene glycol poisonings per year, some of them fatal. According to their Annual Report for 2001, there were 4938 human exposures to ethylene glycol, with 713 of them occurring in children under the age of 6.
The Washington State University Veterinary Medical School estimates that 10,000 dogs alone are poisoned each year. Here in New Mexico, the deaths of 3 children in recent years are also attributed to this poison.
Following the fatal poisoning of a local dog last year, we introduced "Scooby's Law" in Albuquerque to require that all ethylene glycol based coolant sold within the municipality include the bittering agent Denatonium Benzoate also known as an "aversive" agent to make the poison unpalatable. Many tragedies, both locally and nationwide, could be prevented by a few drops of this bittering agent.
Denatonium Benzoate has no ill effects on engine performance or cooling system life, but it can help prevent the next tragedy for a child, a pet or for nearby wildlife. It is the bitterest substance known.
After gaining feedback from the relevant business community, we passed the legislation with a phase-in timeline for vendors to comply with the new requirement. This allowed gas stations and auto parts stores to transition their shelves from existing inventory and to begin stocking the modified coolant without serious disruption or financial hardship.
The actual cost for addition of the bittering agent is estimated at about two cents per gallon. In the eyes of our community, it is a cost well worth bearing for the safety of our children, wildlife and pets. The feedback has been surprisingly good, and I believe even the directly involved business community has seen the virtue of the initiative.
"Scooby," the golden retriever who gained statewide fame by surviving a gunshot wound in the face, only to later die an excruciating death by antifreeze poisoning, highlighted the need for this common sense ounce of prevention.
There is a federal version of Scooby's Law currently under consideration in the US House of Representatives, HR 1563. It has bipartisan support as well as the endorsement of various professional and humanitarian associations. But as Mayors know all too well, waiting for action out of Washington, DC can sometimes make for a very long wait.
California and Oregon have already passed statewide laws requiring the addition of bittering agents. And likewise we have done so in Albuquerque, as have some of our neighboring jurisdictions.
Sometimes the common sense leadership simply has to come from America's states and cities. In this case, both the business community and the public at large understand that it won't happen without some action on the part of government, and they have been overwhelmingly and consistently supportive of the initiative.
If your city is ready to address this common sense humanitarian and public safety issue, please do not hesitate to call my office at 505/768-3000 for any assistance you might need.